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Interspecies Music and the Structure of Animal Sounds

A Performance and Public Lecture by David Rothenberg on February 27, 2018, from 11:00am–12:30pm
Venue: ACT Cube / MIT, e15-001, Wiesner Building, 20 Ames Street Cambridge, MA

Can one really communicate with other species through music?

David Rothenberg has been trying to do this for many years by playing his clarinet together with whales, cicadas and birds – his latest subject is the nightingale. He will also demonstrate new ways of visualizing animal music, and discuss his collaborations with neuroscientists, bringing art and science together.

A philosopher, composer, and musician, Rothenberg is the author of Why Birds Sing, also published in Italy, Spain, Taiwan, China, Korea, and Germany. It was turned into a feature length BBC TV documentary. Rothenberg has also written Sudden Music, Always the Mountains, and Thousand Mile Song, about making music live with whales. Rothenberg has seven CDs out under his own name, including On the Cliffs of the Heart, named one of the top ten CDs by Jazziz Magazine in 1995. His latest book is Survival of the Beautiful, on aesthetics in evolution. His first CD on ECM Records, with pianist Marilyn Crispell, One Dark Night I Left My Silent House, was released in 2010. In 2011 he released CDs with Lewis Porter and with Scanner. Rothenberg is a distinguished professor of philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

In an article for RIXC‘s “techno-ecologies” book, Rothenberg spoke about his work:

“I often use computers in my music to reveal hidden musicality in the sounds of nature, slowing down a bird song and raising the pitch of a great whale so that we humans can hear its pathos and its cry. I need technology to help me see and hear the deepest riches of our world. But I don’t want it to completely bound to my world, and I know it is essential to shut down the machine sometimes and jump straight into the sea. Technologies are best when they reveal greater and deeper connections between ourselves and the beautiful features of our surrounding world. When they teach us how to think more subtlety, more cautiously, and more richly, rather than dictating what we can see or not see. Much of the most important aspects of human life cannot be contained within a computer, even as they might be communicated via a computer. Let’s use these life-changing devices in a way that greater binds us to our place in the cosmos, rather than pretending information stands for everything in the cosmos. You are only most human if you admire your own humility. As Arne Naess once said, “the smaller you come to feel compared to the mountain, the nearer one comes to its greatness. I do not know why this is so.” I don’t know either, but it is still an important way to make one’s path in this world.”

This open lecture is a part of 4.320/1: Introduction in Sound Creation Course – Expanded Field Radio and Acoustic Immersions, organized by class instructors: Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits, and TA: Gary Zhexi Zhang.


+371 67228478 (office)

+371 26546776 (Rasa Smite)